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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 11, 2013

A measure that would prevent unions from deducting union dues from employee paychecks passed the Senate Thursday in a party-line vote.

Democrats filibustered the bill for eight hours Monday night and then compromised on an amendment that would only allow paycheck deductions with the annual consent of the employee.

Sen. Paul Levota, D-Independence, said the newer version is not an improvement.

"It's still unnecessary," Levota said. "It's purely politics. It's purely a waste of time before this body to be dealing with this issue."

But Republicans said the bill is not an attack on employees, but rather a way to restore their freedom.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream speaks to reporters about expanding state funding for veterans education

Some Missouri House members are pushing create an tuition fund that would help Missouri National Guard members continue their education.

State Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, chairman of the House budget committee, announced the creation of a new education fund in the proposed state budget for Missouri National Guard members due to recent federal budget cuts.

Stream said nearly 1,400 members of the Missouri National guard are affected by the suspension of the federal assistance tuition.

He said these student soldiers are in need of this educational funding.

"For many of them who sacrifice so much to serve our state and country, this is the only way for them to complete a college education," Stream said. 

Stream is working with Rep. Jeff Grisamore of Lee's Summit to help restore federal funding for military tuition assistance.



The Missouri Senate approved a measure Thursday that would let voters decide whether to raise the state sales tax by one cent to fix the state's roads.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the bill. He said if Missourians can see the benefits the tax will have on the economy then they will approve of it.

But voters haven't approved a tax increase in over 25 years. Just last November, Missouri struck down a tobacco tax that would have gone toward education.

"I think people thought the cigarette tax was too much and too aggressive," Kehoe said. "I'm not trying to say that transportation is more important than education but each one of these issues has to stand on its own and I think this has a pretty good chance of standing on its own."

The proposal now moves to the House.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and House Speaker Tim Jones speak to reporters

Leaders from the Missouri House and Senate held a press conference to discuss the progress in both chambers over the 2013 legislative session on Thursday.

Assistant House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said no legislation this session has created jobs for Missourians.

"Instead, what we have seen is infrigement on voter's rights, suppression of wages for the middle class, and undermining worker's rights," McCann Beatty said.

Republican leaders at the state Capitol are more optimistic about how they have met legislative goals so far this session.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he thinks the House and Senate have been working together well and have remained united on all of their priorities.

In the House, two key priorities including a benevelont tax credit extension and amateur sporting events tax credit bill have been sent to the governor's desk this week.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said his chamber has moved forward on nine major priority bills in 2013. The legislation also includes incentives for amateur sporting events, initiatives for belevolent taxes, and a strengthened definition of unemployment law.



People who owe thousands of dollars in back taxes to Missouri would get a break from any hefty penalties, under legislation endorsed Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The measure would create an "amnesty" program where people who had unpaid taxes at the end of last year would be excused from all penalties and interest on those taxes if they pay what they originally owed by October of this year.

State revenue officials estimate that the program could bring the state as much as $75 million for the coming fiscal year.

The measure passed the House last month with broad bipartisan support in a 150-2 vote.

The Senate committee took the unusual step of voting on the bill on the same day it heard public testimony. Senators did add an amendment about the tax compliance of people in the amnesty program, so the measure will have to go back to the House for one more vote if it is approved by the full Senate.

The idea of tax amnesty has been floated in recent years as lawmakers have worked to close gaping holes in the state budget, but the proposals haven't reached the governor's desk.

The House Budget Committee passed its version of the budget Wednesday, which the full chamber will debate when lawmakers return from their week-long spring break.

House Budget Committee chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, proposed a "mega-amendment," which shifted around nearly $23 million in spending. The committee agreed to pull $750,000 from higher education institutions to provide scholarships for veterans. Stream said it was a necessary move after the U.S. Department of Defense stopped accepting applications for tuition assistance after the federal sequester took effect.

Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Lee's Summit, said the state owes veterans a solution.

"We wanna step up and assist and off-set that loss so that we can insure that our student soldiers continue to have the funding they need to further their higher education," Grisamore said.

Republicans in the committee rejected two amendments in party line votes that would have expanded Medicaid as prescribed in the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said Missouri would struggle to fund its budget priorities in 2020 when the state would be expected to pay for 10 percent of the expansion.

"It's still my opinion that we're going to have to pillage education funding to make this work," Rowden said.

The Missouri Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday that would ask voters if the state sales tax should be increased by one cent over ten years in order to fund the state's transportation system.

If approved by voters, revenue from the tax increase would be set aside for Missouri's transportation system, providing money for the maintenance and repair of roads, bridges and other transportation projects.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the bill would provide flexibility for counties looking to improve their transportation needs.

Sen Joseph Keavney, D-St. Louis City, said he is worried that too much money would go to building roads and bridges.

Keavney said the Senate needs to "make sure we allocate some of these funds to the not so glorious things that need to be done: the light rail, the bike paths, the walking paths."

The proposed amendment still needs another affirmative vote in the Senate before moving on to the House.

After 64 days in session, state lawmakers sent the first two bills of the session to the governor's desk all within just one day.

The first bill would provide tax credits for amateur sporting events while the second would award tax credits for charitable causes.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County, would extend the sunset or expiration date on a number of so-called benevolent tax credits. The most controversial part of the bill was the exclusion of incentives to adopt a child based on race.

Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, is the father to an adopted-Chinese daughter. He said he was disappointed in the removal of those incentives because most racial adoptions are done in state, not abroad.

"The reality is that most African-American adoptions are coming out of child services' adoptions," Lamping said.

Despite the rejection of another bill that would expand Medicaid in the state, Democratic lawmakers will continue to push for expansion.

Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, presented a Medicaid expansion bill to the Senate Appropriations committee on Wednesday. Levota said Medicaid expansion is the most important issue facing the General Assembly. He said it is not a political decision, but an economic one.

LeVota said expansion would "help Missouri grow as a state."

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he believes the appropriate measure would be to "have the federal government to refund the DSH payments and provide funding to the state of Missouri and block state funding so each state can leverage its own individual assets for the best providing care." He said he believes this would provide more people with coverage and would cost less.

The bill was defeated by an 8-3 vote.

Public works projects would pay a lower wage under a bill passed by the House Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, would change the way the Department of Labor calculates the prevailing wage for most public construction projects. Instead of basing the wage for each occupation on voluntary surveys completed by contractors in each county, the wage would be determined by a statewide weekly average.

Love said the lower wage would allow more school and other local construction projects to be undertaken, thereby stimulating the economy.

“It’s going to be a pay stimulation and a job stimulation,” Love said. “To me, that’s a plus.”

Opponents argued that the lower wage would hurt workers and, rather than lowering costs for construction projects, increase profits for contractors.

“I’m concerned that with this bill, wages will continue to decline,” said Rep. Bill Otto, D-St. Louis County.

The bill passed the House 91-65 and will now go to the Senate.

The first bill to reach Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk will be a tax incentive for amateur sporting events.

The House passed the bill, which originated in the Senate, on Wednesday. It would give sports organizations, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, money back on admission tickets sold for an event in the state.

Supporters said the bill would attract more events and boost the states economy.

Under the bill, the amount of tax credits given to sporting organizations would be capped at $3 million annually. Additionally, the bill includes a 50 percent tax credit for donations to committees working to attract sporting events to the state.

The bill passed the House 127-29. The governor has 15 days to sign or veto the bill before it becomes law by default.

The House also passed a bill that would require workers to annually reauthorize automatic paycheck deductions by unions for political purposes. The bill passed 90-65 and will now go to the Senate.

Directors from the Department of Revenue appeared in front of a Senate committee Wednesday to explain why Missourians identification is being sent to a statewide database.

Deputy Director John Mollenkamp told the Senate Appropriations Committee the department sends the information to a database through a vendor, MorphoTrust USA, which then verifies the information to ensure deterrence from fraud.

Mollenkamp said the data is deleted after being verified and sent out, but he added that there is no written verification that the data has been deleted. Mollenkamp also said there is a grant from the Department of Homeland Security allowing the Department of Revenue to pay for computer programming for comparing photographs through a photo validation system.

Committee chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he has been told three different stories about why the Department of Homeland Security gave a grant to the Revenue Department: one claiming the grant had nothing to do with the verification process and the other claiming the grant was used to purchase hole punchers worth more than $100.

Schaefer also compared the verification system to a Big Brother scenario.

"So literally you are creating an Orwellian file on every single file of every Missourian on the biometrics of their face," Schaefer said while speaking to Mollenkamp.

Schaefer brought up the issue for discussion on the Senate floor later that day, still furious.

"This is the third time I've been lied to in two weeks," Schaefer said.

The Missouri House gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill that would require labor unions to get consent from workers to take fees from their paychecks for political contributions.

Earlier this week in the Senate, lawmakers gave preliminary approval to similar legislation that would require workers to sign off on their employers taking any funds from their paychecks.

Rep. Steve Webb, D-St. Louis County, said the intent of the bill is to attack labor unions.

Sponsoring Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said his proposal is aimed at protecting individual workers.

"Is that because those employers donate to the people you don't want them to donate to?" Webb said.

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday night that would cut income taxes for Missouri residents and businesses by three-quarters of a percentage point and increase the sales tax by one-half cent over the next five years.

The bill would cost the state between $477 million and $670 million each year, according to legislative staff estimates.

Republicans in favor of the proposal say it's the biggest tax change in Missouri in decades.

They also say the lower tax rates will help the economy.

"It's going to drive our economy to succeed. We're going to drive more revenue to the bottom line of the budget," said bill sponsor Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit.

Democrats say the measure would unfairly shift the tax burden onto the state's poor families.

The Senate passed the measure with a 23-11 vote.

Lawmakers in the state Capitol have been pushing to raise the state sales tax to pay for state road projects, but Senators said Tuesday that they should have control of how the money is spent.

A proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Kehoe would raise the state sales tax by one percent for 10 years to pay for road projects.

But the state Highway Commission would ultimately decide which projects get funded. And some Republicans, like Senator Kurt Schaefer, now say they want some control over which projects get paid for.

But Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said that giving lawmakers more control would send the money to projects with the strongest political connections--not the greatest benefit for the state.

"I would have nightmares over elected officials prioritizing our transportation projects and I think Missourians would as well," he said.

A bill that Democrats have said discriminates against women seeking medical treatment passed out of the Missouri House Tuesday.

The measure would allow doctors and nurses to refuse to perform medical procedures that violate their moral or religious beliefs.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said his bill provides the necessary protection in emergency situations.

"If you have a conscience that stands for life, and the beliefs and rights for the worker, vote for this bill," Jones said.

The bill moved to the Senate on a 116-41 vote.

The House's Small Business Committee gave its approval to a proposal Tuesday that would have Missouri car buyers pay their sales tax based on where they live, and not where they bought the car.

The Missouri Supreme Court struck down a similar system last year for being unconstitutional.

But Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the system would help local governments get vital tax dollars and attract more buyers back to dealerships in cities near the state's border.

"They need this to be able to play on a level playing field," Kehoe said. "Our bordering states are taking this business out of Missouri. As those businesses move out of Missouri, our jobs will follow."

The bill has already passed the Senate, and will now be heard in the House. But if the House keeps the change made Tuesday, the bill will have to go back to the Senate for yet another vote.

New details emerged today in a Stoddard County court case that alleges the license office sent confidential information to a third party company and the federal government.

This all began when Republican Lt. Governor Peter Kinder recently alerted the public to this process.

The plaintiff's attorney in the Stoddard County lawsuit, Russell Oliver, said this practice violates state statute.

"We are a state and a nation of laws. But we are also not going to collect and retain this personal and private information of our citizens. Those laws are supposed to mean something, and are supposed to be followed."

The judge in Stoddard County said this license office can't collect this private information and send it to the federal government.

The temporary order is still in place, but the judge in the case says he wants more information from both sides before a permanent decision is made.

The election for the new pope of the Catholic Church is to start Tuesday, March 12, in the Vatican. Some politicians in the Missouri State Capitol say that society and the Catholic Church are prepared for a non-European pope.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said he understands the politics behind not electing a pope from America and Sen. Scott T. Rupp, R-Wentzville, thinks that the world is not ready yet for an American pope.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said in a press release Monday that a proposed tax reform in the state Senate would hurt "seniors, families and veterans" the most.

The more than 300 page bill, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, calls for a one-half percent sales tax increase and a lower income tax rate for citizens and corporations.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said he doesn't think the bill hurts people like the governor believes.

"Give them a tax break?" Richard, R-Joplin, asked. "I don't see how that fits, but everyone is entitled to an opinion, I guess."

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis County, said she wants to see dramatic changes in the bill before in becomes law.

"With what we have so far, that bill needs to go in the trash can," Nasheed said. "It's not good for the state. It's not even worth the inc used for the paper it's on."

Senate Democrats launched a late night filibuster Monday against Sen. Dan Brown's, R-Rolla, bill to prohibit unions from deducting union dues from employee's paychecks.

Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said the ultimate goal of the bill is to cripple unions, rather than give employees more freedom. 

"I think the goal, I guess, is to make it so (unions) don't have the power to be effective," McKenna said.

Brown said he is trying to give workers more freedom.

"I just think people should have the ability to choose where their money goes," Brown said.

Democrats said the filibuster was not just frivolous speech.

"We've had interesting topics like our kids," said Sen. Paul Levota, D-Independence, "But it's important for us to take a stand and show just how ridiculous this bill is."

After the filibuster had lasted eight hours, senators agreed to an amendment that only allowed these paycheck deductions with the annual consent of the employee early Tuesday morning.

Minority Floor Leader Jolie Justus said she still thinks the bill erodes the power of unions, but being in the deep minority forced her to compromise.

"Probably no one in here is completely satisfied," Brown said.

The bill did remove language that would have allowed union members to choose which political candidate or group to contribute their dues to. The Democrats said it is illegal under current law for unions dues to go toward political candidates anyway.

The Missouri House gave preliminary approval to a health bill the House Speaker said comes from God.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said his legislation will allow health workers to opt-out of performing procedures that violate their religious, moral or ethical beliefs.

The bill received heavy opposition from some Democrats, who argued the bill expands the state's refusal clause and may limit access to reproductive care in emergencies. Current state law allows providers to refrain from performing abortions that conflict with personal convictions.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, said "this bill discriminates against women. This bill does not come from God, this bill comes from a legislator."

However, Jones said Democrats were not basing debate on fact. The legislation would require health workers to provide "reasonable notice" of their decisions and the bill would prohibit workers from refusing care when it is needed to save a life.

Those with developmental disabilities waiting for services may get in-home treatment if state lawmakers approve additional funding to eliminate the wait list.

The House Budget Committee heard the committee substitute Monday which would add $10.7 million more than the governor’s budget proposal to the Department of Mental Health’s Division of Developmental Disabilities.

The money would provide care to the 1,695 individuals on the wait list.

Jeff Grosvenor, from the office of the director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said the funds would go directly to services and would not be used to hire any additional staff.

“This money will go to serve people who are currently on the wait list,” Grosvenor said. “It would all be spent with contract providers to serve those people and meet their needs in the community.”

The majority of the additional funding needed to eliminate the wait list would come from federal dollars, with $3.8 million of the state's general revenue fund also contributing.

In addition to reviewing the budget for the Department of Mental Health, the committee also looked at the budgets for the Departments of Economic Development, Health and Senior Services, and Labor and Industrial Relations.

The committee took no action on the budget bills.

State lawmakers raised concerns that information gathered for a new licensing system would be sent to private data companies and federal databases.

The Central Issuance licensing system would replace the current over-the-counter system by sending scanned personal documents to a printer in a different location.

Members of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee questioned Deputy Director John Mollenkamp of the Department of Revenue on the process behind Central Issuance in a hearing Monday.

"We're going to try to set rumors aside," said Committee Chairman Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

The Department of Revenue testified that personally identifiable documents scanned by clerks would not be transmitted to vendors other than the printer. The scanned documents would not be sent to a federal database either.

Mollenkamp said private information would be destroyed after a license was created, although the ability to verify this destruction was called into question.

Last Week

State lawmakers would be able to serve as long as 16 years in either the House or the Senate under a measure that cleared the Missouri House Thursday.

Sponsor Rep. Myron Neth, R-Liberty, pre-filed legislation last year so that a legislator could serve 16 consecutive years in either house of the General Assembly or a combination of the two. The proposed amendment was passed in the House Thursday in a vote of 121 to 30.

The current Missouri Constitution states a legislator is only allowed to serve eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate for a total of no more than 16 years.

"I really emphasize that we're not extending term limits," Neth said on the House floor Thursday. He said legislators can already do eight years in each house but this amendment would just "tweak" the system to make it better.

Philip Blumel is the president of the group, U.S. Term Limits, which is an organization that pushes for states to enact term limits for their legislators. He said there is no reason to change the Missouri term limits in a press release Wednesday.

“HJR 4 is just another of a long series of attempts by some politicians to cling to office by increasing their tenure in the state capitol and should be rejected overwhelming by the state Senate,” Blumel said.

A colorful statue of "Old Drum" sitting on a bench in the Capitol on Thursday

The proposal might be all bark and no bite, but Missouri lawmakers were at it again Thursday, considering a bill that would bestow the title of state historical dog on loyal bloodhound that is already a part of canine lore.

The House Tourism and Natural Resources Committee heard from the public about a proposal that would give the title to "Old Drum," a hound who lived with his owner near Warrensburg in the 1870s. During an argument before the state Supreme Court around that time, Old Drum was dubbed "best friend man has," which is said to be origin of the phrase "man's best friend."

The committee has yet to vote on the bill. Last year the tourism committee heard about three candidates for the historical dog title, but did not send any of them to the House floor. The House voted down a similar measure in 2010 because the dog considered then was found to be of Canadian origins.

Get this year's bill

Several republicans in the state Capitol said some license offices have started using new equipment from the federal Department of Homeland Security to process concealed carry permits.

And they said that equipment is sending gun owner's information straight to federal computers.

A lawsuit has been filed in southeast Missouri to stop this practice.

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific said he supports this lawsuit for many reasons. Curtman said one of those reasons it has become an issue is because there are multiple violations of Missourians constitutional rights, such as a right to privacy.

"Being able to store all of us in a national database, I think it is an issue of deeply intrusive government going way too far."

Neither the state Department of Revenue nor the governor has said anything about the accusations.

At least two Missouri Republicans said Thursday that they want to strike down education standards set three years ago, that one critic called "academic child abuse" and "a train wreck."

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the national "Common Core" standards in 2009, and Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said they should have consulted the legislature before doing so.

"When I came down and surveyed my fellow members in the Senate this year, maybe one or two of them knew what Common Core standards were," Lamping said.

In the hearing, State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said her department isn't required to get the approval of the legislature every time it makes a policy move.

The Missouri Senate gave its approval Thursday to a plan that would allow home brews to be a part of festivals, exhibitions and competitions across the state.

This comes after home brewed beer was abruptly banned last year from St. Louis's Brewer's Heritage Festival.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, allows home-brewed beer to be removed from the premises where it was brewed for use at organized affairs, exhibitions or competitions. The plan would also loosen liquor regulations for boats at Table Rock Lake and bowling alleys in the state.

Schmitt said he's seen universal support from large breweries in response to his plan.

"Those festivals like that kind of celebrating the industry and they want to have more participants," he said.

Stephen Hale, Chief Brewer at The Schlafly Tap Room, said the plan will help consumers see that all big companies in the industry got their roots at home breweries.

"It just supports the general message that beer is good, beer is good for you and it may not seem that we all get along, and there are different viewpoints on that, but I'm a big supporter of the kumbaya among all brewers," Hale said.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

The Missouri Senate has given preliminary approval to a series of income tax cuts and a sales tax increase that GOP leaders have been calling for to keep the state competitive economically.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, would cut state income tax rates for individuals, small businesses and corporations and raise the state sales tax by 0.5 percent in his bill. The bill would start phasing in the rate changes in 2014 and the final rates would take effect in 2018.

Kraus pre-filed his tax cut legislation in December and has modified the bill several times since then. Kraus said some type of tax cut would be necessary after Kansas slashed its individual income tax rates and tax rates for small businesses in May 2012.

"I'm not trying to do what Kansas is doing, I'm trying to stop the bleeding. I'm trying to stop the businesses from fleeing Missouri into Kansas," Kraus said.

The Senate endorsed the plan despite the absence of an official fiscal note with an estimate of the costs of each provision. Kraus estimates the legislative package would cost the state treasury $450 million each year.

The plan also moved on despite Democratic opposition. Some Democrats said the General Assembly should tread carefully in crafting new tax policy because the state already struggles to fund some of its obligations through its current revenue stream.

"I'm not saying that we should do nothing," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. "I'm saying that what we should do should be very calculated, very vetted and we should understand the potential consequences or the unintended consequences of the actions we're gonna take here today."

Some Democrats have also voiced concern that the sales tax increase is regressive and will hurt the poor, as the poor pay a larger percentage of their income in sales taxes.

The bill needs another affirmative vote in the Senate before it can move to the House.

A state representative introduced legislation Wednesday that he said would create more privacy protection for Missourians.

Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he filed the bill in response to a lawsuit that was filed Monday. The Stoddard County lawsuit alleges private information is being sent by the Missouri Department of Revenue to a third party and the federal government.

The bill would make it illegal for the department to collect, store or transmit Missourians' personal documents used for drivers's licenses and non-driver's licenses, such as conceal-and-carry licenses.

Richardson said Representatives "need to be very vigilant in guarding Missourians' privacy rights."

In a statement, House Speaker Tim Jones said he will quickly refer the bill to the committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability.

The Missouri House gave first-round approval Wednesday to an amended bill that would offer an air export tax credit for freight companies who ship goods internationally through Missouri airports. Before the amendment, proposed by Rep. Anne Zerr’s, the bill only extended the time period a freight line company could collect an unrelated tax credit.

As amended, the bill would include shipping out of any airport with international flight capabilities in the state, including Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Zerr, R-St. Charles, said the amendment would create jobs and encourage international exports, improving Missouri’s economy.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said he supports the bill even though it is similar to legislation that would provide tax credits to forwarders of international cargo. In the past, such legislation has been dubbed “China hub.”

“This is, for lack of a better term, China hub light,” Roorda said.

Rep. Vicki Lorenz Englund, D-St. Louis County, also said she supports the bill but voiced a major concern.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t ask the question, how are we going to pay for it?” Englund said.

Last week, the Missouri Senate revisited "China hub" legislation and passed a bill to the House to provide tax breaks for international freight handlers at any airport in the state, similar to Zerr's amendment.

The effort to create a program to monitor prescribed painkillers has lost a major supporter while gaining an unlikely one.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, is sponsoring a bill that would create a program that would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to establish a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of strong painkillers, such as Vicodin or OxyCotin, by doctors.

Last year, Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, proposed a similar bill, which Schaaf strongly opposed, calling it both a freedom issue and a privacy issue. Schaaf vowed to kill it with a filibuster unless it was put to the vote of the people. This time around, Frederick said he has changed his opinion on the program.

In his bill this year, Schaaf inserted a referendum clause that would put the program on the ballot so it could be put to a vote of the people.

Schaaf said he is supportive of giving the voters the opportunity to decide "if they want to give up their right to privacy."

"I fully believe the people would vote it down," he said.

Even though he's against the program, Frederick said he likes that the bill would go to the people and gives them the opportunity to decide.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, also sponsored bills that would create a prescription drug monitoring program.

Engler said it is important for doctors to have access to a program such as this to see if doctor shopping is occurring. He said Missouri is one of the few states in the nation to not have a prescription drug monitoring program.

Sater, previously a pharmacist in Cassville for 30 years, also believes a monitoring program is essential. He said there is a serious problem with prescription drug abuse.

"I have seen prescription drug abuse skyrocket over the past 10 years," Sater said.

His bill would set up a computerized system that would record all prescribed scheduled drugs. He said if a pattern of doctor or pharmacy shopping arises, the Department of Health and Senior Services would be informed and an investigation would begin.

Vietnam veterans supported a bill in a committee Wednesday to protect Second Amendment rights by declaring certain federal laws invalid.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Funderburk, R-St. Peters, would declare all past, present and future federal laws and regulations that "infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms" invalid.

Funderburk said the bill would "protect Missourians to the extent that if any federal agency or any agent of a federal department would attempt to...enforce illegal gun control laws...they would be violating the law."

Several veterans spoke in support of the bill. Michael Kilgus, a Vietnam veteran, said that veterans' rights had been suppressed and veterans had been stripped of their right to bear arms without due process of law.

No witnesses opposed the bill.

A state representative and a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood debated the true meaning of a bill that would ban certain types of abortions Wednesday to the House Health Care Policy committee.

Bill sponsor, Rep. john McCaherty, R-St. Louis County, said his bill would prevent doctors from encouraging women to have sex-selection abortions or abortions because of a genetic abnormality diagnosis.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist, Michelle Trupiano said the language of McCaherty’s bill would ban these types of abortions.  

Trupiano said this bill would take away women’s ability to make difficult decisions about the obstacles facing them.

No further action was taken on this bill.

The Health Care Policy Committee also heard a bill sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones. His bill would expand the protection rights for anyone who refuses to participate in medical procedures that violate their conscience.

Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, testified in favor of the bill. He said the bill is not designed to stop any procedures from happening, but to assure that individuals can opt-out of performing the procedures if it violates his or her religious beliefs.

"I think we all realize that individuals who choose to go into medical profession generally do so because they have a real interest in sustaining, nurturing and fostering human life," he said. "They take seriously the credo to 'do no harm' and unfortunately, there are certain circumstances, which this bill is designed to address, where they are asked to potentially do harm to human life, to go against the values and convictions and religious beliefs that they hold, and in effect, forced to choose between their career and their conscience, a moral quandary they should not be in."

The committee voted the bill out of committee by a 5-3 vote.

Missouri would refrain from joining 46 other states in adopting national education standards under legislation heard by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, would prohibit the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from implementing the statewide education standards without approval by the General Assembly.

The education standards targeted by the bill, the Common Core Standards, are a part of the application for Race to the Top money. When Missouri applied for this federal funding in 2010, Missouri government officials agreed to adhere to these standards even though they had not yet been written or clearly defined.

Lamping argued that standards should not be adopted if the government does not have a wealth of knowledge on the issue.

"I am against all of our state standards that are in the process of being changed without any of us in the General Assembly being made aware of the fact," Lamping said.

Witnesses testifying in opposition of the bill and in favor of Common Core Standards said that these requirements would give Missouri and other states the opportunity to create a large nationwide resource for collaboration.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard a case about the ability of the governor's power to withhold funds.

The case emerged when the state auditor questioned the governor’s withholding of appropriation funds from the 2012 fiscal budget.

Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order in June of 2011 withholding about $172.2 million from the 2012 fiscal budget. The circuit court ruled that the governor is allowed to withhold funds regardless of revenue estimates, but he did not have the right to transfer withheld funds for other reasons than it was appropriated.

State Auditor Tom Schweich is appealing the ruling that the governor had the right to withhold the funds, and Nixon is arguing that the auditor did not have the right to sue him in the first place.

“The auditor does not have the authority to sue the governor on behalf of the state, only a tax payer or the attorney general can do that,” said James R. Layton, the governor’s lawyer.

Layton continued to say that there is no law saying the auditor has the right to demand information from the governor for his policy making decisions.

“This is not about the auditor wanting to second guess or make policy decisions,” said Darrel L. Moore, the state auditor’s lawyer. “This is about the standing of the auditor to fulfill his constitutional statutory duties under Article IV Section 13, to audit the office of the governor.”

The justices did not hand down a ruling.

The House Utilities Committee plans to go back to the drawing board after six hours of debate.

A bill proposed by Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, would allow electrical corporations to file petitions to recover funds for infrastructure replacements. To recover these funds, companies would add a surcharge to utility bills.

Riddle said she filed the bill because she feels Missouri is in the midst of an energy crisis.

“Part of it is infrastructure, part of it is the anti-coal movement,” Riddle said. “Many coal plants that could still be functioning are going offline because of age. We will lose 20 percent of our nuclear power in the nation in the next 20 years. So, yes, we have a crisis.”

At a committee hearing last week, several large utilities companies came to speak in support of the bill.

Warner Baxter, President of Ameren Missouri, said this legislation is an important investment for the future of Missouri electric corporations.

But on Monday, the committee heard two hours worth of opposition to the bill from smaller electric companies who said it would hurt their businesses while benefiting the larger corporations.

Riddle said this is the first time opposition expressed these complaints, causing Riddle to rethink the layout of her bill.

“To say that I’m a little frustrated is an understatement,” Riddle said. “This is a lot of information today that would have been nice to have when we were working through the bill months ago. I didn’t have the opportunity to get that, so here we are.”

Riddle advised committee members to draft up amendments before the committee takes up the bill again next week.

Riddle said she hopes the committee will be able to move the bill to the House floor for debate once the amendments are approved.

Representatives of the business community disagreed on a proposed compromise to fix the troubled Second Injury Fund at a House hearing Wednesday.

The bill, which was already passed by the Senate, places coverage of occupational diseases exclusively under the workers' compensation system. This is a move that business groups support.

But it creates a separate account within the Second Injury Fund to cover 10 toxic exposure diseases. Before the House Labor and Workforce Development committee, bill sponsor Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said the compromise was necessary to ensure Gov. Jay Nixon would sign the bill.

This compromise drew criticism from several business groups. Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, said he was concerned that the cost of the separate coverage of toxic exposure diseases.

“We don’t know what the impact of advertising that you can get an easy settlement will be,” McCarty said. “We don’t want to set up a baby SIF (Second Injury Fund).”

Richard AuBuchon, a lobbyist for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, testified in support of the bill. He said there could be some improvements, but that this version would become law if passed.

“The governor vetoed the bill and said he had to have an enhanced remedy (for toxic exposure diseases),” AuBuchon said. “I’m tired of working on bills that get vetoed.”

Missouri has six elected officials and a Republican lawmaker said Tuesday he wants to add one more for the agriculture department, meaning it could be someone who's never set foot on a farm. 

The House Agriculture Policy Committee heard a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that would make Missouri's Agriculture Department director an elected position instead of continuing to allow the governor to appoint someone to the role with the approval of the Senate.

Sponsor Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, said it was time that Missouri had an "unbiased leader" in the agriculture field. He also said that an elected official would make the issues that impact the 108,000 farms in Missouri more widely known throughout the state.

"They would be able to seek policies and procedures that are truly best for Missouri's agriculture," he said. 

Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, called the proposal an "attack" since none of the Democrats were asked to co-sign on the constitutional amendment and wanted to know if the amendment was meant as a charge against the governor. 

The group, "Mayors Against Illegal Guns", released a poll Tuesday saying 85 percent of Missourians favor background checks for gun buyers.

But Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis City, said she knows her bill requiring all sales of firearms be made through licensed dealers won't pass because of resistance from Republicans.

"This is a common sense method of keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't be legally able to purchase them," Newman said.

Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said he will oppose any measure that restricts access to firearms.

"Because the other side of this issue from me are so bent on focusing on gun control as the solution to everything that you're having to focus in on again protecting our fundamental second amendment rights," Guernsey said.

Rep. Eric Burlison, of Springfield, continues to try to pass a bill that authorizes an individual income tax deduction for business income.

This bill would phase out for over five years, and allow taxpayers to deduct a certain percent of the business income each subsequent year.

Once fully phased-in, taxpayers will be allowed a 50% deduction for all tax years after the 2016 tax year.

Members of St. Louis Heroin Help rallied outside the state Capitol to support a bill that would protect heroin users who call 911 for people around them who overdose.

After the rally, St. Louis resident Kathi Arbini said her son died from overdose because a user who was with him was afraid to call the police.

"I feel that he was afraid he would be questioned," said Arbini. "So if they would have taken him, I think we would still have our 21-year-old son."

Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, is sponsoring the measure, and he said the bill wants to save lives, but not protect drug dealers.

"If you have enough drugs for distribution, you would not be protected like simple users would be," Spencer said.

Spencer said he has gotten calls from constituents and lawyers complaining that the bill is too soft on drugs, and that users deserve whatever they get for choosing to do drugs. 

Missouri senators are still steaming over the $5 million purchase of a new plane for Gov. Jay Nixon and on Tuesday they moved to make sure such purchases won't happen without their approval in the future.

Senators gave first-round approval to a bill that would require the State Highway Patrol to get approval from leaders of the House and Senate budget committees before making some high-dollar purchases. Specifically, the lawmakers have said they want to limit purchases from "revolving funds," pools of money that departments get to cover incidental expenses without specific legislative approval. Lawmakers have said they want to have the power to approve or reject any revolving fund purchases that exceed $150,000.

Nixon's new plane was purchased with money from a revolving fund meant for maintenance of highway patrol vehicles. The fund was created so that the patrol wouldn't have to get approval for basic maintenance on squad cars. But the highway patrol used that money to purchase the new plane several months ago, saying that the old plane was becoming increasingly harder to maintain.

The Highway Patrol posted public notice of the purchase, but lawmakers have said the patrol didn't ask them for permission before making the buy. That drew ire from Republicans who have had to draft and pass tight budgets as the state has dealt with the struggling national economy.

Missouri lawmakers discussed options Tuesday on how the state can finance a billion dollars for infrastructure repairs across the state.

But in a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee for Infrastructure and Job Creation, Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said the current list of repairs could pose a problem in swaying metropolitan votes.

"I think it would be much easier to go out and pass this through the General Assembly," Schatz said. "They [metropolitan voters] are the lion's share of the votes in those areas and those are the people we've got to get to buy in to this."

Some of the recommended fixes include Fulton's State Mental Hospital, public colleges and universities and other state buildings.

Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Missouri voters should decide when their tax dollars are spent.

"I'm not ruling anything out but I'm hesitant to incur debt without a vote of the people," Kelly said. "You know, this is not the United States government, we try to be a little more fiscally responsible than that."

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said his bill would force the state of Missouri to be accountable for any state or federal law that infringes upon the right to bear arms.

"It makes it so citizens can say (to the government) you have an affirmative obligation," Schaefer said. "You don't get to sit on the sidelines. You have an affirmative obligation to protect this right."

Schaefer said this bill is not just about gun control, but it is about making sure all of the constitutional amendments have equal protection.

"Anytime you take away protection from one part of the constitution, you're agreeing that any part of the constitution is open to change," Schaefer said.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said the important part of the proposed constitutional amendment is that it ultimately gives voters the power to decide what to do with gun rights.

"Anytime we have a hotly contested subject like this, getting the will of the people is always a good idea," Holsman said.

The Missouri Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that could help the state's two largest natural gas companies replace nearly 1,200 miles of old pipeline.

The bill modifies what the Missouri Public Service Commission can approve for Infrastructure System Replacement Surcharges (ISRS), charges utility companies seek to pass on the cost of infrastructure improvements to customers.

The bill increases what a gas corporation can charge for an ISRS relative to its revenues from 10 percent to 15 percent.  It also lengthens the time period a company can charge an ISRS from three years to five years.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, sponsored the bill and said Laclede Gas and Missouri Gas Energy can replace cast-iron and metal pipes with plastic pipes if the bill ultimately passes. Lager said each company looks to replace 30 to 40 miles each year and ISRS changes are needed to facilitate the decades it will take to replace 1,200 miles of pipeline.   

Lager said ISRS filings have been used responsibly in the past and his bill allows rates and regulations to accommodate the need to replace old infrastructure.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, offered an amendment to cap what gas utilities could charge each month for an ISRS, as he said he was concerned residential ratepayers would bear the brunt of likely increases in the surcharges.

"To have a whole dollar cap amount is transparent and it is good for our constituents," Holsman said.

Holsman's amendment received support from Democrats in the chamber but was defeated. The bill must pass the Senate before it can move to the House.

Sen. Will Kraus and Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal held a press conference on Monday, Mar. 4,2013, to announce welfare reform agreement.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D- St. Louis County, announced Monday she decided to work with a Republican senator on a bill she opposed last session.

Last year, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, proposed a similar bill that would require a photo I.D. to get food stamps.

Chappelle-Nadal argued the bill would hurt her constituents who rely on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund for support.

She decided to work with Kraus after she learned that people were abusing the TANF fund.

"These funds are supposed to be used for families who are in need and for children who are in need," Chappelle-Nadal said. "So when I found out that these cards were being used for casinos and at strip clubs and out of town for possible vacations, I was dismayed."

Kraus’ and Chappelle-Nadal's bill would limit Electronic Benefits Transfer cards from being used for liquor, strip clubs, casinos and other recreational activities.

This bill is similar to a federal law passed in 2013 that would regulate the use of TANF welfare cards at casinos, strip clubs and to buy liquor and tobacco.

Kraus’ and Chappelle-Nadal’s bill takes it one step further by also regulating all recreational activities such as going to the movies or to amusement parks.

Chappelle-Nadal also says it will help regulate business owners who knowingly let welfare recipients use their EBT cards for recreational purposes.

Critics say that people who want to abuse welfare cards can still get cash from ATMs to use recreationally.

A bill that would regulate both big cats and nonhuman primates stirred up controversy in the House Local Government committee Monday. The bill would require owners to obtain a state permit, and alters the information that must be included in the permit. The bill would also lower the required insurance owners must carry from $250,000 to $50,000.

Despite the lower cost, exotic animal owners present at the hearing opposed the bill due to its repetitive nature. Owners would have to obtain a state permit in addition to the permits already required by federal and local government.

Vickie Harvey, representing America's Animal Owners and a primate owner herself, brought in the paperwork required by the USDA. It includes required documentation of the apes' daily care and a log of health issues, ages and food.

The USDA's requirements are "really very extensive, and much more...extensive than this bill," Harvey said.

The state's zoos saw the bill differently.

"I would hope Missouri doesn't wait for a situation like Ohio, where the exotic bill came around after those 48 lions and tigers came out," said Dr. Eric Miller, Senior Vice President of the St. Louis Zoo. "It will better ensure the safety of the public."

Republicans lawmakers have stood strong with their multiple bills detailing photo ID for voting.

The Senate Elections Committee heard more bills Monday on the subject, this time with a different date for eligibility of a provisional ballot. The date of 1948 would allow those 65 and older to qualify.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, previously proposed a nearly identical bill to the committee that had the date for the provisional ballot as 1941.

The makeup of the Senate Lounge looked very similar to previous hearings, with a representative from the Secretary of State’s office holding firm on its opposition to voter ID legislation and claiming it will disenfranchise voters.

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